New normal comes as virus impacts county

  • County Commissioner Terry Turner
    County Commissioner Terry Turner

One day after Gov. Ron DeSantis limited gatherings to 10 or fewer people to slow coronavirus, the Board of County Commissioners emergency meeting Wednesday drew 30 people to the Putnam County Government Complex.

To ensure public safety while the coronavirus pandemic dominates the country, the board voted 4-1 in favor of canceling next week’s Board of County Commissioners meeting. All meetings with more than 10 people should be canceled, commissioners said. 

“We could be in this for the next 18 months,” Commissioner Jeff Rawls said. “We need to start building a new normal and getting that in place as soon as possible.”

DeSantis issued an executive order Tuesday closing all bars, pubs and nightclubs for 30 days, limiting restaurant capacity to 50% and limiting beach gatherings to 10 or fewer people. 

Rawls was against the cancellation because he said meetings would be crucial to give countywide updates. And although Commissioner Buddy Goddard voted in favor, he said he didn’t want progress to slow down. 

The decision to not have a meeting was to ensure the health and well-being of the public. 

“I’m not worried about myself. I’m not worried about me,” Commissioner Larry Harvey said. “I’m worried about the public having to be here or thinking they need to be here for a reason. … We’re already violating the governor’s orders today by having 30 people in this room.” 

Meetings cannot be closed to the public or done over video chat because those options would not comply with Sunshine Law. The law states all board meetings must be open to the public. 

If needed, an emergency meeting, like the one called Wednesday, will be called. 

As of Wednesday evening, there were no confirmed coronavirus cases in Putnam County, but there were 314 positive cases in Florida.  

The board granted Putnam County Emergency Services the ability to use private companies to assist with hospital transfers during the state of emergency if the assistance is needed. 

The county’s state of emergency lasts until Friday and could be extended if needed. 

A call center opened Tuesday at the Emergency Operations Center, 410 S. State Road 19, to answer residents’ questions about the virus. Whether it be health techniques or state executive order guidelines, county and health officials are on staff to answer inquiries. 

The number is 329-1904 and the facility is open 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. 

“This is no joke,” Commission Chairman Terry Turner said. “We’re trying to save lives. … I believe that I need to do what’s right to help protect the people of this county.”